director/writer: David Lynch; screenwriter: Barry Gifford; cinematographer: Peter Deming; editor: Mary Sweeney; cast: Bill Pullman (Fred Madison), Patricia Arquette (Renee Madison/Alice Wakefield), Robert Blake (Mystery Man), Balthazar Getty (Pete Dayton), Robert Loggia (Mr. Eddy/Dick Laurent), Michael Massee (Andy), Natasha Gregson Wagner (Sheila), Marilyn Manson (Porno Star No. 1), Gary Busey(Bill Dayton), Lucy Butler (Candace Dayton), Richard Pryor (Garage Owner); Runtime: 135; October Films; 1997)
“If one wishes to make sense of this film, it would have to be done on a metaphorical level.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

David Lynch’s (“Eraserhead”) Lost Highway, his first feature film after five years, is a surreal thriller with a puzzling plot. It asks a lot from the viewer as far as accepting it at face value. It’s meant to be an unconventional shocker and a post-modern noir, sci-fi, ghost story. But it is confusing and weirder but not better than Eraserhead and Blue Velvet. It held my attention throughout and concludes with a roller-coast ride down a dark, desolate highway, with an ending that does little to give meaning to the jig-saw puzzle it created. But it does complete its narrative and ties up its loose ends.

Fred Madison (Pullman) is a jazz saxophone player living in an ultra-modern posh house in the Hollywood Hills section of LA. He’s distraught because he suspects his sexy brunette wife Renee (Patricia Arquette) of cheating. A videocassette is left on their doorstep showing their house being observed. The next day another tape is found on the doorstep. It reveals the couple sleeping in their bedroom. This prompts them to call the cops. Fred, also, at this time, suffers from a series of nightmares in which he sees a mysterious, pasty-faced man (Blake). Coincidentally at a party given by Andy, a friend of his wife’s, he sees the same mystery man he saw in his dream. Strangely, this mystery man knows he was in Fred’s dream. A third videocassette arrives, this one shows the results of a grisly murder. Renee is bludgeoned to death; and Fred, even though he does not remember doing it, is nevertheless convicted of first degree murder. And before you realize what’s happening, Fred is in an isolated cell on Death Row awaiting to be juiced to death.

While in his cell, Fred inexplicably changes into a younger man. He becomes a garage mechanic named Pete (Balthazar Getty). Pete winds up in Fred’s cell with a gash on his puss, as Fred vanishes. The captain of the prison exclaims “This is some spooky shit we got here.” It sounded like this is something that could have been said in an adult version of an ‘Amos and Andy’ sketch.

Pete when released from prison goes home to his supportive parents and punky girlfriend Sheila, and returns to his auto mechanic job. Mr. Eddy (Loggia), a ruthless gangster, admires the way Pete fixes his cars. On one of those car visits, he is accompanied by someone who could be Renee (still Arquette) but with blonde hair and who now goes by the name Alice. Alice is his moll, and Eddy is quite willing to kill anyone who makes a play for her.

Alice entices Pete to begin this dangerous affair with her, and when she fears Mr. Eddy is getting wise she talks Pete into doing a robbery in the desert and running away with her.

Lynch’s Lost Highway goes down the director’s usual themes of violence, gore and dubious sexual situations. We also get to see Arquette stroll around in her underwear when she’s not completely nude. She was the least interesting of all the characters, partly because of her insipid performance and partly because the two characters she played were not particularly interesting.

Robert Blake, as an androgynous creep, is mysteriously portrayed as some sort of specter, who could be Renee and Alice in another form. Even Loggia has two identities and names, Mr. Eddy and Dick Laurent. Also, the couple’s house is a double for the Lost Highway Hotel.

Both Bill Pullman and Balthazar Getty are effective in their roles. While the Loggia role was too predictable a gangster one and seen too often recently to bring much to the table (it was second-rate in maniacal comic-viciousness compared to Hopper’s same type of role in Blue Velvet).

The Lost Highway was somewhat effective not because of the actors or the story, but because it was elusive, atmospheric, unpredictable, different and gracefully ethereal. It was a film that took chances resulting in an uneven work, but in its successful dark moments was able to shine as a haunting film. If one wishes to make sense of this film, it would have to be done on a metaphorical level.